August 8, 2013

How I drill toenails (and other revolting photo evidence)

Warning: you might want to look away now if toenail problems make you gag.

I thought I had toenails on lock for this summer, meaning that I would have them for the first time in a couple of running years. Until that blasted Choccolocco 50K and the water-retaining trail shoes I wore that day. That was the beginning of the end of six of my toenails. The worst offender was the big toe on my left foot. It continued to throb a couple of days after the race, when the other toenails had gotten back to just turning black but halted their throbbing.

The throbbing equals pressure, caused by fluid (like blood and pus) build-up behind the nail. When the fluid has nowhere to go, you will be in pain, which is your body's way of telling you that something needs to be fixed.

Disclaimer: you can totally go to a doctor to have them drill your toenail in a sanitary environment, and this is just my own experience that you do not need to follow. Disclaimer over.

So here's what I did when my toe was in need:

1. Pick out a sharp instrument for drilling. I used a sharp kitchen knife. I've heard suggestions for using drills or needles, but I like the knife because I completely control the movement (unlike the drill) and I don't need to hammer anything. I read about people hammering needles, and that sounded horrific.

2. Sanitize everything. I used rubbing alcohol to sanitize my toe and the knife. Also, if my toenail is loose, I will lift it up and pour rubbing alcohol in. So far, the rubbing alcohol hasn't caused any additional pain, but I'm not sure that it wouldn't in all situations.

3. Pick your mark and drill. I tend to choose a lower spot on the toenail with the assumption that I will be able to release more pressure the lower I go because there's already an escape route at the top of my toenail. As far as the drilling goes, I just place the tip of the knife on the toenail and slowly rotate it in one spot, drilling deeper and deeper with each rotation. 

The first time I did this, I was terrified that it would cause even more pain so I made sure to keep the drilling nice and slow, and it honestly didn't hurt at all. Using a drill would obviously be faster, but I've never experimented with it and don't really plan to because I like this slow-as-dial-up-internet method. You will know immediately when you've gone deep enough because pus will start to seep out. Usually it takes me a total of a few minutes to complete the process.

One, two, three, and you're done. Each time I've done this, it immediately alleviates the pain. If you continue to have pain, redness, and swelling, go see your doctor because you have bigger problems.

Drilling complete.

Also, be prepared for the toenail to continue draining any time you apply pressure to the toe. So if you go to yoga class right after drilling, take a towel. Just throwing out there the things you never wanted to hear. On to good news, once your toe is done draining and the pain is gone, you will be left with a blackish, brownish toenail that is ready to be camouflaged with toenail polish -- so you can get back to blending in with suburbia. 

To see a much uglier version of what an ultramarathon can do to you, go here. Bonus, that link is also funny.